Monday, June 13, 2011

Cat Death vs. Dog Death in Film

Death is an odd thing to portray in film. Depending on who is getting killed, the audience's reaction could vary drastically. For example, if you're killing off a middle-aged male in an action film, you're probably not going to evoke any tears from your viewers. If this middle-aged male is wearing a uniform, visor or mask, your audience might not even blink. However, there is one type of death in a film that will almost always create some sort of reaction - animal deaths.

If you injure, maim, harm or kill a pet-like animal in a film, you will definitely get an emotional response. But during my many years of movie watching, I've noticed an odd trend regarding animal fatalities in film. Generally speaking, if a dog is killed in a movie, it is done for dramatic effect and intended to make the audience sad. On the other hand, when a cat is killed in a movie, it is usually done for comedic effect and intended to make the crowd laugh. Why is this? I don't know. But let me show you a few examples to prove my point.

Disclaimer: Keep in mind that no animals were harmed in the making of these films. . .or this post. The author of this blog loves both cats and dogs. The Former 786 also does not condone the injury or  senseless killing of pets or pet-like animals, but he may have laughed a couple times when Daffy Duck ran into a tree or Wile E. Coyote fell off of a cliff. He also may have wished for Wile E. Coyote to catch the Road Runner at times, or for Tweety Bird to actually get eaten by Sylvester the Cat, but I digress -- that's a different story for a different post.

Old Yeller
We'll start off with one of the most obvious examples of a dog's death bringing about tears. For those of you who don't know the story of Old Yeller, you probably already know what's going to happen based on the title of this post, but, just in case ***********SPOILER ALERT*********** Old Yeller gets a case of rabies and they have to put him down in the end. This is no laughing matter. ***********END OF SPOILER*********** Now, this example may be lost on you younger readers out there, but the mere mention of the name Old Yeller is still enough to make my father weep openly.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Now let's contrast that tear-jerking scene from a classic family film with a scene from this classic comedy. The Griswolds have everyone over for their family Christmas dinner and Aunt Bethany brings her cat to the party. . .wrapped up in a present. This would be distressing if it wasn't so hilarious. They let the cat out, and it proceeds to wander the house. It eventually decides to chew on some Christmas tree wires and, luckily, pulls them out of the wall socket in the process. Clark Griswold notices his Christmas tree isn't lit up anymore and so he decides to plug them back in. ZAP! As Cousin Eddie put it, "If that cat had nine lives it sure used 'em all." There are no tears shed for this cat, but there is some lamentation about the ruined armchair it was under when it got fried.

"But, The Former 786," you say "Christmas Vacation is a comedy, so of course this feline's demise was done for laughs." Well, that's a good point, faithful readers, but let me show you that it doesn't matter what genre of film we use, the results seem to be the same.

Turner & Hooch
There are many mismatched buddy cop movies out there, but Turner & Hooch is one of the best. Before Tom Hanks made a living making people cry, he was a famous for making audiences laugh. In this film he is an anal-retentive by-the-book cop who is forced to partner with a slobbery canine who was a witness to his owner's murder - the 80s were awesome, weren't they? Anyway ***********SPOILER ALERT*********** Hooch is shot by the bad guy at the end of this light-hearted comedy and he, sadly, dies. They try and make up for it by showing us little Hooch puppy offspring, but it's too little too late. ***********END OF SPOILER*********** It's a very sad moment in an otherwide, hilarious movie.

The Boondock Saints
Boondock Saints is not a comedy. It's a cult-classic action film about two brothers who become vigilantes. During one part of the movie the brothers and their friend, Rocco, are sitting at a table full of liquor and weapons. Rocco's girlfriend's cat is also lying on the table. You can probably see where this is going. At one point Rocco is getting very worked up and he slams his fists on the table, triggering the shotgun and creating a very unpleasant, though accidental mess involving the feline. It's done for humorous shock value, and Rocco has a fairly cathartic moment with his girlfriend when he confesses what happened to her cat.

 Now, let's take a look at two movies in roughly the same genre: I Am Legend and Drag Me to Hell. These two thrillers both involve the death of an animal, but the dog death is, once again, done to tug on your heartstrings where the cat death is meant to tickle your funny bone.

I Am Legend
This movie stars ***********SPOILER ALERT*********** Will Smith ***********END OF SPOILER*********** as a lone man in a decimated city full of CGI creatures. His only companion is a dog named Sam. Sam and he have a very close relationship, and Sam even sacrifices his own well-being by defending Will Smith against the cartoon creatures. Since Sam has been bitten by the animated reanimated, Will Smith has to put him down. It's Old Yeller all over again. If you don't cry at this moment in the film, you have no heart.

Drag Me To Hell
What would you do to get a gypsy's curse off of you? In Christine Brown's case, practically anything. Poor Christine tries a number of different ways to prevent her soul from being dragged down to hell, but nothing seems to work. Someone mentions to her that sacrificing her cat might do the trick, and she resists at first, but eventually she gives in. When she pulls the knife out of the holder and says, "Here, kitty, kitty!" the audience I was watching it with erupted in nervous laughter.

So why is this? Why is it that cat deaths don't have the same emotional effect as dog deaths in movies? I don't know. Maybe it's because we were raised on cartoons where cats were normally the bad guys. Maybe it's because dogs have been reported to stand guard by their owners after they've died, whereas cats are rumored to eat the deceased. Regardless, there seems to be an odd pattern in movies where cat deaths are done primarily for laughs and dog deaths are done for tears.

However, I guess cats get to have the last laugh -- after all, cats rule the internet.


Crystal said...

I sobbed during that part in I Am Legend. Like, really had a fit. I have not seen Old Yeller or Turner and Hooch. And I don't wanna.

--jeff * said...

further evidence that i didn't text you because i was watching harry potter 5: "meet the parents": dead cat ashes desecrated = funny.

variant on dog death: family dog narrowly avoids tunnel flame death in slow-motion in "independence day": the audience in the theater cheered.

i appreciate the spoiler alerts. i'm really excited to find out who's in "i am legend" now.
...even though i have seen it and i didn't cry during the dog scene.

The Former 786 said...

Crystal, I feel your pain. Although Turner & Hooch really is a fun movie.

Jeff, you have no heart.

Breann and Skylar said...

Add "Marley and Me" to the list for dogs.

The Former 786 said...

Mentally added.

Andrea said...

I hate this. I hate all of this. Animals shouldn't die in movies for my sake, and ESPECIALLY not for laughs. I have never, and likely will never, forgive Drag Me To Hell.

Emily said...

Thank you for this. I find cat and dog deaths equally upsetting in film. I refuse to watch any movies that involve this stupid practice, and I think the writers should be forced to watch a compilation of these sick scenes on a loop.

The Former 786 said...

That might just make them more desensitized.

Lah Tiger said...

They shouldn't stop it, every cat or dog or any pet you have will eventually die of course this is sad but it's the truth i dont like watching movies with pet deaths because the make it more dramatic than human deaths :-\ lol.
But anyway i Am Legend was an awesome movie and the dog death made it sad and realistic.. Like did you expect the dog (sam) to survive till the end of the movie? Well for me definitely no because he cant carry weapons

Lah Tiger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
88MilesPerHr said...

This really bugs me too! Not only do I not find ANY ANIMAL dying in movies/TV as funny (intentional or not), but I think this ignorant, tactless, lazy practice only perpetuates all the total BS stereotype issues about cats; all this does is cause more people to be ignorant, and it spreads unwarranted hatred of one of the most intelligent, most awesome creatures to walk the earth.